Inside Ludwig’s mind and his residences…
Shy, imaginative, moody teen madly obsessed with classical music composer. Grows to be an eccentric recluse, elusive bachelor and a deeply indulgent patron of the same classical music composer. Harmless. Until you know the full story. That he’s a unwilling regent, hailing from the Wittelbach dynasty, Europe’s longest ruling dynasty. So indifferent to politics, that he ultimately eats into his empire’s financial foundations to fund his larger-than-life castle building projects. Dedicated to his opera god. Richard Wagner. No surprise then, that Ludwig II, (Mad King Ludwig, as he’s nicknamed), takes the crown for being Bavaria’s most controversial historical figure. Ironical, considering his head was perennially uneasy wearing a crown!
Make Munich your base to explore two of Ludwig’s most well-recognised fairytale castles. To marvel at their artistic splendour, but also to fathom the folds of the troubled mind of an reluctant ruler, whose life (and death) are shrouded in dark mystery. The castle hunt takes you along the Romantic Road (couldn’t be better named), credited as of the world’s most spectacular drives. (Read my post on “Surrender your hopeless heart to the Romantic Road”). So, enjoy the ride.
The sun washes the hills behind the graceful rise and dip of the deep green landscape. Clouds float softly on the mountain tops, a little rivulet runs along the road. First glimpse of the snowy peaks of the Alps. Try pulling your eyes away. Fail desperately. Ascend the first mountain of about 2500 ft along a broad, comfortable serpentine road, surrounded by dense autumn forests on both sides. And you’re parked at the Linderhof Palace complex. Its an hour since you left Munich. What? Already?
A languid walk through expansive gardens. Swans skimming over limpid lakes, treetops kissing aquamarine skies and fresh water streams rippling down grassy hillocks. Cool greens of leaves fading into fiery oranges and sunny yellows. Full-blown blazing autumn colours blending roughly, each leaf telling its own story. Tread the gravelly path strewn with dry fallen maple leaves, listening to the music of the crunching beneath your feet. Bend down to pick up a few priceless souvenirs.
In the middle of this idyllic haven, stands the Linderhof palace surrounded by baroque gardens, terraces and cascades in the Italian Renaissance style. An oasis of calm isolated in the majestic Ammergau Mountain forests. Opulent, yet intimate. A gilded statue shines at the base of a fountain, and a terraced hillock beyond it leads to a small pillared temple dedicated to Venus. Large urns flaunting elaborate flower decorations border the pond and a row of simple white-painted benches with curved legs add a touch of grace. Structured, perfect…like a masterpiece of a painting…each brush stroke alive!
Take a tour of the small palace, absorbing the curious mix of rococo, baroque, renaissance and classical styles. The pure white-stone painted exterior is enhanced by elaborate gold-carved balcony railings and a matching gilded front door. Inspired by Versailles? On the roof, is poised a statue of Atlas holding the earth. More magic awaits inside the French-style palatial residence.
An elaborate chandelier weighing half a tonne. Gold plated carvings on walls and ceilings, rooms overflowing with expensive dresden china, sculptures, French porcelain and Italian marble. Gold and sparkle. More gold and more sparkle! An ostentatious bedroom made of blue tapestry and gilded gold with a balustrade bed like Louis XV, and even a mini Hall of Mirrors a.k.a Versailles. With a breathtaking view of a huge, cascading Italian Neptune waterfall with a music pavilion on the top! And a trap-door dining table that could be lowered into the kitchen beneath the floor at the touch of a button. Leaving Ludwig in peace to host opulent multi-course dinners with his imaginary guests.
Evidence of more indulgence in the gardens. An incredible Venus Grotto, an artificial cave complete with stalactites, a 10-feet deep lake (and a wave-producing machine), a shell-shaped boat in which Ludwig was rowed around, and a mural depicting his friend Wagner’s ‘Tannhauser’ opera. Lighting in this grotto used to be changed by rotating colored glass disks. Apparently, music performances were held here and vocalists stood in the water (fortunately heated).
A sumptuous home for a loner who remained unmarried and died under mysterious circumstances at 40 after being declared mentally ill. You’re still trying to digest all the incredible extravagance, even after Linderhof is a speck in the distance. When you gasp at the first glimpse of the Neuschwanstein Castle.
Perched on a high cliff, resting on a carpet of treetops, pointed turrets and towers rising into the skies, a curtain of gently sloping mountains completing the grand showcase. The light-coloured limestone of the palace stands out like a solitaire in a ring, against the copper-gold autumn forests below and the bright blue sky above. Ludwig’s final retreat. The zenith of his fantasies. And the penultimate temple in honor of the object his affection, Richard Wagner.
Its a steep 1.5 km uphill from the village of Hohenschwangau at the foot of the Alps in the Allgäu area to the to the castle. Take the 11 euro horse cart ride if you prefer the indulgence. My recommendation: work for it. Hike the thickly wooded beauty. The rewards seem sweeter with faster heartbeat, shorter breath and stiffer calves.
Up, close and personal finally with the most unreal castle anyone every envisioned! The inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. And every die-hard romantic’s dream come true. But first, the fantastic scenic views. Down in the valley below, miles and miles of meadows, a small village with tiny red Monopoly-like houses on a vast green carpet, a church in the distance, carefully laid out roads, a river beyond, and then the high mountain cover. A lookout out from a large steel parapet with a glass balcony. People crossing the small Queen Mary’s bridge suspended precariously over a deep ravine between two mountains, under which gushes a mountain waterfall. Ludwig had great taste. And his never-fail mantra while investing in a home? Location, location, location! Smart guy.
Graceful lines of the entrance gated wall in soft pink and cream colours, a large wooden slatted gate, and coat of arms above. Windows made of narrow slits and arched tops, arranged symmetrically on the flat walls, and alternately on the towers, hiding a circular staircase perhaps. That red ivy on the gleaming light walls…was it there in Ludwig’s time too? Wait, is that Rapunzel peering out of one of the windows, her wild tresses flowing in the wind, waiting for her Prince Charming? Nah! Just a regular tourist.
Tour 16 of the 110 interior rooms of Neuschwanstein that were completed by the time Ludwig died. True to its owner’s style, many outrageously lavish elements stand out. And odes to Wagner everywhere. Walls and ceilings decorated with coloured frescos in Romanesque style. A throne room decorated with red silk and gold embroidery. A four-meter high gilt bronze Bohemian coloured glass chandelier weighing 2,000 pounds. A masterpiece floor ablaze with vibrant motifs of animals and plants. A concert hall ceiling with 96 painted wooden cassettes based on designs of zodiac. A Neo-Gothic bed with richly carved wood canopy of pinnacles that resembles Gothic church spires. A swan-shaped sink. A functional telephone, central heating system electricity and modern kitchen. All this for only 172 days that he stayed here!
Neuschwanstein Castle is the dream world of an reluctant king, living in a fantasy world of myths and legends from an early age. A fanciful retreat overflowing with excesses and romanticism…think damsels in distress, dragons, and knights in gleaming armour. Recreating the region’s medieval past in an enchanting way. What Germany has done for his unfinished home is far more than he could have ever bargained for. Since 1990, 11.2 million euros have been spent to renovate and maintain this most frequently photographed spot in the country, which 1.3 million visitors frequent every year. A mad king’s extravagances have become a vital source of income for the state of Bavaria. All’s well that ends well.
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